Enrollment in private schools has fallen as the cost of private school education has gone up, a report from Bellwether Education Partners finds.
Funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the report, Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students (76 pages, PDF), found that the percentage of children from middle-income families who are enrolled in private school has declined steadily since the late 1960s while enrollment of children from low-income families has remained low. The downtrend in enrollment coincides with the rising cost of private school tuition, which increased on average from $7,100 in 1999 to $11,450 in 2011 (in 2016 dollars) — the equivalent of 25 percent of annual income for a typical low-income household earning $45,200 a year, or 18 percent of the 2017 median household income of $61,400. According to the report, while private schools historically have served only 10 percent of all students in the U.S., 40 percent of parents say they would prefer to send their children to one.
The study includes a discussion of the emerging micro-school model — intentionally small schools that often feature multi-age classrooms, a personalized approach to instruction that is student-led and uses blended learning and technology, and alternatives to traditional testing. While not all thirty-seven micro-schools surveyed in the report were affordable, 42 percent reported tuition comparable to the average religious school, and 60 percent reported per-pupil expenditures of under $10,000 a year. The report also found that while twenty-four of the micro-schools indicated that serving disadvantaged students was part of their mission, only seventeen schools indicated that being intentionally inclusive and diverse was a key design feature, while at slightly more than half (54 percent) fewer than 30 percent of students received financial aid.
"[T]he desire to serve diverse student populations is often in tension with financial sustainability," the report's authors write, noting that the study raises questions about how to achieve equity in private education. "What is the potential for low-cost private schools to serve middle- and low-income students at scale? For micro-schools?"